The Pope’s ecumenical commitment is restless. After his journey to the Caucasus, to which ecumenism was particularly important, these days all of his attention has been focused on our Anglican brothers. After a joint celebration of Vespers in the church of Saints Andres and Gregorio al Celio on Wednesday evening, today Francis gave audience to the Archbishop of Canterbury and primate of the Anglican provinces, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Blessed l’Archbishop Michael Ramsey.
“It was very fruitful – said the pontiff – just think of the birth of the Anglican Center in Rome, the appointment of the Archbishop’s Permanent Representative to the Holy See and the beginning of our theological dialogue, whose symbol is the book containing the five documents of the second phase of ARCIC (1982-2005). As we share these fruits, we think they come from a tree planted during an encounter that took place 50 years ago.” Then, looking towards a shared future, Francis offered a bried reflection on prayer, witness, and mission: “Prayer: last night we celebrated Vespers, this morning you have prayed here, on the tomb of the Apostle Peter: let us never get tired of asking the Lord together and insistently to grant us the gift of unity. Testimony: these 50 years of encounter and exchange, reflection and shared texts, tell us about Christians who, by faith and with faith, have listened to each other, sharing their time and forces. The belief that ecumenism never means impoverishment, but always wealth; we have cultivated the certainty that whatever the Spirit has sown in the other, will become everyone’s crop. Let us treasure this legacy and let us feel every day called to give to the world, as Jesus asked, the witness of love and unity among us. ” Finally, “Mission: there is a time for everything and this is the time when the Lord challenges us, in particular, to come out of ourselves and of our environments, to bring his merciful love to a world that is hungry for peace. Let us help each other to transform the Gospel into the core of our existence and to work concretely on this mission.”
For his part, the archbishop of Canterbury acknowledged the great value of the Pope’s words and example, the dangers that beset the man and the need a more visible unity, which would make our common commitment even more credible.
‘‘You have recalled us afresh – Welby told the Pope – to the needs of ministering with the poor. You have set a Christ-like example by your travel to places of suffering and difficulty. You have stood alongside migrant peoples. You have initiated work on modern slavery and human trafficking, and much more. You gave essential force to the meeting of nations in Paris on climate change. Your letters and encyclicals have spoken far beyond Rome and her church, in a manner which is universal. Yet, if we look at the world around us, we continue to see a lot of dangers for human dignity and great suffering. The dangers facing are acknowledged by many people, but only a few of them have an answer. Along with this mix of war, migration and climate change, economic deprivation, inequality and corruption, we also see extremist groups advocating violence motivated by religion, which are growing, affect many, perhaps even all of the major faiths in the world. Internet allows their venom to spread in the world with a lightening speed, fooling those who are naïve or have lost their way, leading them on paths of destruction. Secular values neglect the unborn, especially those with disabilities, and abandon the elderly. Family life is sidelined because of economic problems”.
And if the Church is at the forefront when it comes to address these scourges, with the certainty of being assisted by the Holy Spirit, “in our disunity – said the Anglican Primate – we grieve the Spirit of God, and we hurt every aspect of our lives in Christ. Our witness is damaged, because we are not seen as one; thus, the world is not able to see that Jesus is the Father. Our community has weakened, since we cannot share the Eucharist. It casts a shadow on our joy in Christ.”
Welby has praised the work of the IARCCUM, the International Anglican Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission, a name that is “not very elegant, but which hides the beauty of his work, where with joy and love, it tries to show the world, with our joint action in mission, that we are deeply connected in Christ, who is the hope of the world. May we learn from them, and from the blessings they find and donate – called for the archbishop -. May we tackle the knots of war and injustice together. I pray, despite the things that divide us, for us to be publicly determined to push forward wherever we can, along with all other Christians, especially those who suffer, in the Orthodox world and in the east. Jesus preceded us. He invites us to be brave. Let us walk closer together – he concluded – so that the world may see new life and energy, determination, joy and hope in worship, mission and witness.”